Q3 2019

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10 CINEMONTAGE / Q3 2019 GET TING ORGANIZED by Rob Callahan F ive years ago, I began a relationship with an unlikely companion. We're all familiar with the conventions of the buddy picture: A mismatched pair, thrown together by desperate circumstances, begrudgingly comes to respect, even admire each other. They transcend their differences, teaming up to tackle shared adversities and, in the process, forge a warm bond. Every plot twist, in retrospect, led inexorably to that moment like the one shared by Rick and Louis in Casablanca, side-by-side on the fog-blanketed tarmac: "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." I co-starred in one such story. My buddy, the star to whom I played sidekick, was a 12-foot tall inflatable rat. Even if you didn't walk the Shahs of Sunset picket line with your Guild sisters and brothers back in September 2014, you've probably seen Scabby the Rat. He is an enormous balloon in the shape of an ugly, menacing rodent reared up on its hind legs. For decades, the cartoonish creature has been a fixture at labor disputes in cities throughout the US, with unions erecting the balloon outside the premises of companies they accuse of exploitative employment practices. Workplace abuses are ordinarily invisible to the general public, but Scabby's raison d'être is to make such transgressions ostentatious. As an avatar of shameless greed, the inflatable rat has become a hallmark of campaigns to shame unscrupulous employers. The visual vocabulary of labor strife is less robust than that of motion pictures; in labor's limited lexicon, few symbols register as potently as Scabby. When Ryan Seacrest Productions, the producers of Shahs of Sunset, illegally retaliated against its post-production crew for organizing, the IATSE's inflatable rat began a month-long residency on the sidewalk outside of the company's Miracle Mile offices in LA. The Shahs strike was an extraordinarily long one for us — a four-week test of endurance that coincided, unfortunately, with a brutal heat wave. (Our strikes are ordinarily measured in increments of days or even hours, rather than weeks.) Scabby was with us all that time, standing sentry over our sun-parched picket lines. When hours of marching back and forth over 50 yards of scorched sidewalk rendered the rest of us picketers sweaty and weary, Scabby remained unflappable — except, of course, for those occasions when the blower keeping him inflated would falter, at which times he did literally flap. (I write here of my personal relationship with Scabby, but it needs to be noted that my Guild colleague, Preston Johnson, and our IATSE brother, Ron Garcia, shared primary responsibility for husbandry of the rat. It was chiefly they who set him up each morning and broke him down at the end of each day's picketing, and who tended to the sandbags, the air pump, the generator and his other miscellaneous needs. Scabby is a big-enough star to merit multiple sidekicks, and I played only a very minor role alongside him.) Over the course of the Shahs fight, we even briefly deployed a second Scabby at Rockefeller Plaza to accompany members protesting outside of the headquarters of NBCUniversal. The New York incarnation of Scabby — with bloodshot eyes, yellow fangs, lolling red tongue and sharp, grime-crusted claws — was appreciably uglier than its West Coast doppelganger. It was apparent that our LA Scabby has had some work done. I'm now reminded of my time with Scabby because our friend has been in the news of late. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), currently dominated by President Donald Trump's appointees hostile to organized labor, appears intent upon branding the balloon an outlaw. Observers of the NLRB attribute the Board's war on Scabby to NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb, whose monomaniacal prosecution of the giant rodent rivals You Dirty Rat Why Trump's Labor Board is So Scared of Scabby CONTINUED ON PAGE 12

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